An artwork inspired by comerce, consumerism, the glamour of cars and embodied by girls in catsuits performing a Busby Berkeley-esque kaledoscopic routine. Roman Vasseur’s Franchise
Andrea Fraser takes up the position of the stripping woman in her performance Official Welcome, in which she addresses an assembled art audience giving an introduction to ‘the artist Andrea Fraser’. The scripted dialogue, in which she performs ‘artist’ and ‘supporter’ quotes a number of collectors’ and artists’ real introductions and acceptance speeches, all delivered whilst Frasers strips naked and then clothes herself again by the end of the performance:
Artist: Yeah, the art world likes “bad girls.” But if you tell the truth and people don’t want to hear the truth. If you’re honest about how stupid and fucked over life is, you end up in the tabloids. I don’t go looking for it. It just comes in a big stinking tidal wave. Removing bra, then shoes, then thong. I’m used to it. It’s boring. […]
Supporter: Well, thank you. Thank you for your dedication, for your vision, for your life. I think we all must dare, as artists do, to break free of the past and to create a better future, rooted in the values that never change. That’s the great lesson our artists teach us.
Museum Highlights: The Writings of Andrea Fraser (2005) Andrea Fraser ed. Alexander Alberro
Fraser’s work can be understood within the context ‘Institutional Critique’, as pioneered by the artists Hans Haacke and Michael Asher. Within this positioning her work takes on an intellectually engaged examination of what we expect a contemporary artist to give us; she subverts what we think art is by conflating the site of the artwork, the museum, the collector, the critic and the performer. Can we be sure where they all begin and end?
The project ‘Untitled’ is also really worth looking up. Fraser’s work is always smart and fearless and I have incredible respect for her practice.
I feel I shall have to transition from photography and video and into live art and performance practices to really continue this list. Before I do, I shall just list women photographers who in some way address the Showgirlian.
Elinor Carucci is a photographer by day, but a belly dancer by night. She’s documented her dancing life in the book and series ‘Diary of a Dancer‘. A well-observed project in which we see the types of venues, audiences, costumes, dance moves, preparations and the come down following performing. Its documentary and a diary. Just through pictures, a complex narrative is told. With lots of sequins.
Katharina Bosse‘s book New Burlesque is a fabulous collection of portraits of New Burlesque dancers. The dancers look fabulous in clothes the look like they could be performance costume, or in some cases, sassy day wear. The pose and flirt with the camera knowingly, in domestic spaces, corners of cafes and deserts – nowhere you’d expect to find them. They are there, at the beginning of this new movement, carving out a space for themselves. It is a joyous book.
Jo Ann Callis‘s practice spans decades. I saw an exhibition of her work at the Getty Center, Los Angeles and I made loads of notes as I wanted to review the show for a magazine (I didn’t in the end). But you know, I almost feel that to write about Callis’s work is a redundant gesture. I don’t think they need much introduction. I adore her photographs and I love looking at them. Much of her work is concerned with femininity and the experience of being a woman. Just take a browse round her website. Look out for ‘Woman Twirling’ and ‘Performance’. She taught me when I was at CalArts, and she was just had so much style, I would wear any of her outfits.
To reduce Sophie Calle‘s down to just the work she did stripping is a sin. However, this is what I shall do here and now. Please go look up Calle’s wider practice if she’s new to you.
Sophie Calle’s practice is brave, transgressive, self-reflexive, uses herself. But it’s wider than that, its also about how we perform ourselves, how we connect to other people, how our emotions shape us. How we look, and how we are looked at.
In feature film, Viva artist/filmmaker Anna Biller constructed a recreation of a Seventies sexploitation movie. The film is an uncomfortable mix of camp pastiche and truthful real-emotions storyline, which sees Barbie/Viva going on a journey of sexual emancipation. The final scene, celebratory and sad, sees Barbie and her friend in a down-market recreation of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell’s number Two Little Girls from Little Rock from the film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. For Biller, the aim is to negotiate how female desire might be represented and provoked. Most interesting to Biller are the responses she receives from female viewers in support of the film; women can read the resistance in the film, but she finds male viewers only see pastiche.
 Anna Biller (2009) Viva [film] Los Angeles, CA: Cult Epics.
 Howard Hawks, Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell, Charles Coburn, Sol C. Siegel, Charles Lederer, Joseph A. Fields, and Anita Loos (1953) Gentlemen Prefer Blondes [film] Beverly Hills, CA: Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2001.
 I talked to Anna Biller about the film in September 2010, LA.
Jemima Stehli adopted the position of the stripper in her photographic series Strip, in which she questioned the designation of power in the art world within a voyeuristic framework. She stands with her back to the camera in front of a seated male who is identified only by his job title, ‘Critic’, ‘Writer’, ‘Curator’ or ‘Dealer’. A long cable-release is visible in his hand. In each photograph Stehli is in a different state of undress caught in the act of stripping. The precise moment the photograph was taken during this private strip is controlled by the seated male, his power doubled through the status of his job in the art world. And yet, he is the pawn within Stehli’s game. She has created the scenario; it is her concept, her intellect, her skill, and her body that she chooses to display. She is active. The seated male is unable to not look; he must play the stooge. The photograph registers his level of satisfaction or discomfort: is that us, the viewer, looking at ourselves?
Leigh Ledare represents a transition into the frame, and a new way of approaching the showgirl. Now, my examples will be about embodying or trying out the showgirl, and thus, the following examples are about what she symbolises, how she can be used, rather than, who is she?
It’s worth pointing out, that these practices would not exist without a number of female photographers, whose work engages less with a Showgirlian impulse, but women-in-representation. So, look up, if you don’t already know:
Time for something more contemporary! Here are four male image-makers (they work in photo & video) who are using the figure of the stripper as a site of exploration. They show a fascination with the stripper but also work to expand our understanding of who she is and what she does.
Philip Lorca DiCorcia creates portraits that reinvigorate the form. He does more than portraits, actually, and his photographs always command my attention. He created a series of photographs of pole-dancers in action. I sense Lorca DiCorcia’s admiration and attempt to fathom the pole-dancer’s milieu in the photographs.
Mainly using video Francis Alys explores social constructions. He’s used a stripper combined with audio from a singer’s practicing exercises, to explore where a (public) performance begins and ends. Here, he employs the stripper’s performing, moving body, with it’s techniques and expertise, and yet this is not directly the subject of the work, rather, the stripper is used to construct something new in the artwork.